A rapidly growing field, radiology opens a broad avenue for career advancement. Although there are others, three professions — radiology technician, radiologic technologist and radiation therapist — are widely recognized. Your first step down any radiology career path requires locating a program that best suits your personal and educational needs.
Your fastest route into radiology as a profession is becoming a radiology technician. In many cases, specialized training and certification are your only educational requirements. However, an associate degree makes you more marketable and is sometimes necessary to move into more advanced fields. Through additional education and training, radiology technicians frequently advance to become radiologic technologists.
As a radiology technician, you help prepare patients for imaging procedures by having them remove all jewelry and any necessary clothing. You will also ensure proper positioning of patients and when necessary place shielding material over parts of their body not being X-rayed. You operate and maintain imaging equipment as directed by different employers.
Sometimes the different specialties within the profession are easily confused. For example, a radiology technician and radiologic technologist are not the same thing. Trained to operate and maintain sophisticated imaging equipment, radiologic technologists must become familiar with mammography imaging, computerized tomography (CT) and positron emission tomography (PET). Certification as a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) technician or as a radiation therapist are typical career advancement steps.
Radiologic technologists are more advanced in training, experience and responsibilities, and often supervise technicians and even manage radiology departments. As part of that management role, you might be in charge of the schedules for both employee shifts and patient appointments. Many radiologic technologists are certified through the American Registry of Radiologic Technologists (ARRT) and have bachelor's degrees with a concentration in biology and human anatomy, although associate degrees are most common. The BLS reports that the 2012 national median annual salary for radiologic technologists was $55,910 and that by 2022, the number of jobs will increase 21 percent.
While technicians and technologists work primarily as diagnosticians, radiation therapists apply specific types of X-ray technologies to treat specific diseases, primarily cancer. You usually work as a valued member of an oncology team. Like radiology technicians, a one-year certification program is often all that is required to find a job in most states, but having an associate or even bachelor's degree is better.
Most states require a license and certification, which requires passage of the ARRT exam to practice. BLS data indicate that the 2012 national median annual salary was $77,560 for radiation therapists and, at 24 percent, expected job growth is faster than for technologists. Your typical radiology career path is to become a dosimetrist, or a person who calculates radiation doses.
Studying radiology can open up a variety of career paths with room for advancement. Once you figure out which path you want to pursue, you'll be able to choose a program that best suits your needs and interests.